Friday, 8 April 2011

Elements of game design, part one: from pong to next gen

I think game design is an extremely important topic to cover, especially on this course. Even though I would be a part of the art direction, if I was to have a job in the games industry, learning the basic fundamental processes it takes to design a game is still important to everybody in their separate fields and helps drive everyone to their goal. My tutors always say there is no such job as a game designer as it is not specific in any way. You would be required to work on your specific skill role, be it the artistic, technical or writing which are brought together for publishing.

However, back to the very beginning of when games were made on mainframe computers, the lead programmers were considered the game designers and were the driving force of the art team. It was when technology and computing advanced, that separate game designers were needed to drive the programmers and artists and it stayed this way as games became much more complex. Learning the process and in what order, off by heart, would be the best way to start in my opinion. Those roles will then branch off in their own way but those are for the later blogs, more specifically in my field of interest with the course. Then I’ll look at what makes for a good game design.

So designing a game of course starts with an idea. The idea needs to be placed within one or combined genres allowing the theme to be created. I have learned that, for success, the best ideas are not created from absolute scratch. A brand new idea unfamiliar to everybody may not sell as well an idea people can relate to in real life. Our job would be to steal already successful and familiar ideas and make them our own. This would apply to the protagonist of a game, themed environments and objects you may find in the game. With the initial ideas jotted down at the first meeting, the process is carried on by making a design document, containing suggestions of more ideas that can be built on. Once an agreement is made on what type of game will be made, constant tests and changes are made and mistakes are discovered early meaning the first design document will never be an accurate view of the final outcome. We all need a starting point nonetheless.

Depending on which genre you choose, you would need a different method of design. A driving game design doc would be totally unlike a role playing game. All games need a goal of course but an rpg would contain a storyline and sometimes driving games don’t. A driving game could be a total reference to real life whereas an rpg could be totally fictional.

When I consider gameplay, level design and mechanics, I look for originality, as we all do nowadays but not so original it becomes an alien entity that only select fans will enjoy. Target audience is the major factor within all this and you need to make sure they and perhaps newcomers would enjoy the experience. Random terrain mentions mechanics within a game such as cheat codes making a game more enjoyable because you customise your own experience encouraging genuine play over competitive play. The writer talks of randomness and replayability, where he enjoys a new experience each time you restart the game. Its something that board games have over computer games which have a set path requiring you to learn a sequence in which you will already know the outcome. I can understand where he is coming from as I like I game to be open to choice changing everyones experience. That is what made the elder scrolls and grand theft auto very successful, making a game open world.

However I do like a controlled storyline line plus amazing cinematic visuals you must work hard to try and see. I love very hard games that require repeating parts until you get the right tactic and you are rewarded greatly. It’s fantastic because gamespot recently put up a blog of what makes a good villain in a game and points out famous ones that were and were not triumphant in achieving this. I thought it is a great example for this blog on how ideas of game design keep the average player hooked into a game so much because elements like story, characters, environments or exciting gameplay become a memorable experience. The link to it will be below.


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